Unfit for command

413px-John_F._KerryJohn Kerry desperately wants to be Secretary of State. He is probably the only Democrat cheering on those Republicans who question the veracity of UN Ambassador Rice – President Obama’s favored candidate for the role.

Kerry is qualified. With almost three decades in the Senate, he is presently Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. He could be the Democrat responsible for steering through Rice’s nomination. But Kerry may not be there by that time. There are rumors that the president wishes to nominate Kerry for Defense Secretary.

This columnist is no admirer of Kerry’s and prefers Rice for the State Department, but he would be a better choice for State than for Defense.

Let us start with the obvious fact that Kerry desperately wants Foggy Bottom and has expressed no interest in the Pentagon. He was reportedly surprised to be considered for the role. This stands in contrast to 2004, when Kerry managed to insert a reference to his Vietnam service into almost every speech. In a transparently staged opening to his convention speech he saluted and declared “I am John Kerry and I am reporting for duty”. Apparently, his military service, which obsessed him eight years ago, has now slipped his mind.

That Kerry, who had served 20 years in the US Senate, constantly referenced his four months in Vietnam seemed forced and false. In many cases his claims about Vietnam were disputed, and in a few cases were demonstrably false. 

The arguments about Kerry’s Vietnam service during 2004 generated more heat than light. Some of the claims made by his critics were almost certainly false. Some people – including some who served with Kerry – disputed his accounts of how he earned his medals and decorations. It seems fair to accept as arbiter the official military records. This is especially so, as not all of Kerry’s critics genuinely served with him in Vietnam. It is worth noting, however, that not all the politicians and journalists who demanded that we trust the official records had been willing to do the same when the debate was on George Bush’s service in the National Guard.

The debate about his medals galled some other veterans. He had, apparently, discarded his medals in the 70s, as part of an anti-war protest. It later turned out that he had thrown someone else’s medals away. 

While the military records back Kerry’s account of his decorations, they contradict his claim that he spent Christmas 1968 in Cambodia. As for his claim that he was there as part of “Richard Nixon’s war,” this falls at the first hurdle. Nixon was not president in 1968. If, as he claims he heard the news of Martin Luther King’s assassination when he was in Vietnam, he was paying very little attention to political news, as King had been killed seven months before Kerry arrived in South East Asia. 

The ad that killed Kerry’s campaign interspersed his own words, accusing the American military of war crimes, with responses from other veterans. The devastating sentence was that Kerry’s testimony to Congress “gave the enemy for free what I . . . took torture to avoid saying”. 

Voters in the focus group shuddered and moaned when they heard those words. Kerry’s testimony may have been true, but it was unrepresentative of most American soldiers. His comrades felt deeply betrayed. Such poor judgment is unforgivable. Kerry should never be Defense Secretary. 

Quentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at brandjacknews.com

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